Oakdale homicide victim ‘a good person,’ ‘a great bull rider’

Cody Sorensen is shown in an undated photo that accompanies his obituary.
Cody Sorensen is shown in an undated photo that accompanies his obituary. Sorensen family

The accused killer of a 25-year-old former rodeo rider in Oakdale made a brief court appearance Wednesday afternoon, but his arraignment was postponed until Feb. 21.

William Beck Usilton III is charged with murder in the shooting death of Cody Sorensen shortly before 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Sorensen was shot in a residence — reportedly Usilton’s — at the Bonnie Villa Apartments, 333 Poplar St. Oakdale police said the shooting occurred during an argument.

The judge set bail at $2.1 million: $2 million for the offense, $100,000 for an enhancement because the homicide was committed with a gun.

Family members and friends packed the courtroom to capacity Wednesday, meaning a number of people had to wait in the corridor. Waiting for the courtroom doors to open prior to the hearing, Sorensen’s father and brother and a friend all said they didn’t know Usilton. Another friend said the two men had only recently become acquainted.

“He was a good person, man. He’d do anything for anybody,” Zachari Sorensen said about his brother. “I don’t know what in the hell this man’s reasoning was for shooting him like he did.”

Zachari Sorensen and the others around him said they’ve heard nothing of the nature of the argument. It reportedly originated in a bar, where the men had gone together, with Sorensen’s vehicle remaining at Usilton’s place. When his brother was back at the apartment, Zachari Sorensen said, “From what I understand, he needed his wallet and keys and some personal belongings and went in the house for ’em and never came out.”

Cody Sorensen’s passion was rodeo, his brother and a friend, Matt Silva, said. “He was a great bull rider, traveled all over California and neighboring states,” Silva said.

But about three years ago, Sorensen was badly hurt. “He took a gate to the head — a cow kicked a gate and it hit him in the forehead and shattered his whole forehead,” his brother said. That ended his rodeo career and also kept him from doing much in the way of physical work, like being out in the heat in a hardhat, Zachari Sorensen said.

So in the time since, Sorensen did a lot of leather tooling and made ends meet however he could, his brother said.

A friend standing in the courthouse corridor, who declined to give his name, added, “He was still mentoring kids, teaching kids how to ride bulls. He was a hell of a role model.”

A line from his obituary reads, “It broke his heart that he couldn’t ride bulls anymore after his accident at the sales yard, but that never stopped him from taking a young cowboy under his wing, showing him the ropes and loaning him his old gear.”

A celebration of Cody Sorensen’s life will be held at the Oakdale Rodeo Grounds on March 1 at 11 a.m.

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.